A growing number of veterans are running for public office in Florida, and their unique appeal has the power to make or break an election, which is why state lawmakers say politicians who lie about military service should be fined.
From the mountains of Afghanistan to the jungles of Vietnam, from every American war have come new leaders… men and women who went off to fight for their country and returned determined to play a role in its political future.
Jeff Brandes is one of those veterans, a former army officer who served in Iraq and now represents Saint Petersburg in the state house.
“A lot of individuals respect military service, and it puts you in a different caliber in their mind for a lot of reasons, simply because you have that service and you've been deployed and you've served overseas,” he said.
When it comes to campaigning for public office, a military record means a lot more than just a couple of lines on a resume. It also signifies a devotion to the kind of honor and discipline many voters want more of in their government, but when politicians lie about having served in the military, Sen. Don Gaetz says voters are defrauded.
That's why he has a bill that would fine candidates $5,000 for being dishonest about their record.
“When veterans run for office, they're accorded a kind of respect that is earned and well-deserved, but it would be inappropriate, it would be wrong, and I want to make it illegal, for somebody who hasn't served in the military to claim that honor as a way of trying to get a political advantage,” Sen. Gaetz said.
Here in Florida, there hasn't been a documented case of a candidate lying about military service, but just last year, Connecticut's attorney general took heat for fudging the facts about whether he went to Vietnam.
For Gaetz and Brandes, the mere potential for that to happen here is reason for action.
“It's a matter of public trust,” said Brandes.
It's a whole new 'call to duty', not on the battlefield but in Florida's halls of power.
The bill would only make it illegal for candidates to lie about military service. Currently, it wouldn't penalize inaccurate statements about the exact nature of service.